How to make unused gift cards work

Chances are you have at least one unused gift card somewhere. And if you’re honest or if you’re looking hard enough, you probably have two, three or more.

Some 51% of American adults currently have unused gift cards, vouchers or store credit, according to a survey conducted last summer. The average value is $116 per person, and the grand total is over $15 billion. Most gift cards no longer expire, although they may start charging an inactivity fee after 12 consecutive months of non-use.

Here’s a suggested homework: Collect all those cards, figure out how much they’re worth, and come up with a plan to use them. That means emptying the junk drawer, digging deep in your purse, and cleaning out your sock drawer and glove box.

Best Ways to Use Gift Cards

You’ll get the best value for money if you directly use these cards to purchase something, whether it’s a treat for yourself or a gift for a friend or family member.

Another option: many gift cards are reloadable, so you can top up a partially used gift card and give it as a gift. In other words, it would be socially awkward to re-offer the remaining $7.87, but if you add $17.13 to make it a more acceptable $25, your recipient is none the wiser and you have basically saved 31% on this freebie.

A third option is to sell your unwanted gift cards on a website such as You won’t get 100% of the value if you go this route, but it might still make sense under certain circumstances (for example, if you really need the money now, or if the gift card is for a store that does not suit your personal needs or gifts).

The amount you will receive varies depending on the retailer and payment method you select. This is often in the 80-85% range. A $100 Target gift card, for example, can be redeemed for $82 in cash. A $100 Best Buy gift card is worth $83 and a $100 Pottery Barn card is worth $81.

You can get a little more than cash value if you redeem your gift card for another store-specific gift card. For example, this $100 Target card is worth $91.02 when converted to a gift card, $87.74 at CVS, and $86.10 at Home Depot (to name a few- one). These payouts are 5-11% higher than the cash option.

CardCash usually promises fast turnaround times. It promises to send most payments within a day or two of verifying the gift card balance. It may take another day or two to receive the funds via PayPal or bank transfer. If you redeem your gift card for another store’s card, these are delivered electronically, which shouldn’t take long. The other option is a paper check, which will definitely take the longest to arrive.

The bottom line

The calculations indicate whether you use gift cards yourself or give them as gifts. However, getting value is far better than the nothing you get when your gift cards gather dust.

I’ve sold unwanted gift cards a few times and liked receiving what amounted to free money, although it wasn’t as much as I would have gotten if I had used the cards to buy goods.

Have a question about credit cards? Email me at [email protected] and I’d be happy to help.

Michael N. Clark